It is not only the weather and unharvested hay that is on ranchers’ minds in this season.
Prices, of course, and beating the break-even price for product, is the other main focus.
One way of overcoming a market price problem for primary products like beef on the hoof or even cut and wrapped by the side or quarter, is to add value and sell further processed product.
This brings me to the main topic of this article. It starts with a strong compliment to the agriculture sector in the Quesnel area on the half million dollar announcement a few weeks ago by Lana Popham, the minister of agriculture on a regional food hub for the area.
A further note of congratulations should go to the producers and the local government, both City and Mayor Simpson, and the northern regional directors for the Cariboo Regional District.
This kind of support is critical to the success of many agriculture and economic initiatives.
The other kind of support is from citizens and consumers in the local areas willing to support local food production with their hard-earned dollars.
If we want food security, then we must be willing to buy local, even if it costs a bit more. You can bet on freshness and quality and you know the money you spend on product gets recycled in the local economy several times.
Of course, the provincial government has to be there for financial support for these kinds of collective actions by the local community. Money spent on public facilities and programs should come from the public purse. At least some of it should.
A few years ago, the 100 Mile area, under the leadership of then Mayor Donna Barnett, sought to do something like this. In my opinion, this initiative around an agriculture development centre failed in that producers and local government were not able to muster the collaboration and entrepreneurship to make it happen.
Sustaining this support will be necessary for the Quesnel initiative to be a success. The announcement says the North Cariboo has 1,600 producers. I think this includes a wide area and producers south and north will need to turn to this facility for assistance.
The services to be provided at the food hub are: food and beverage processing facilities, specialized equipment and technology, research and development and business expertise.
With only 23 per cent of the 1,600 producers selling directly to consumers and only nine per cent adding value, this looks like a growth sector. Let’s make it so. The buck in this case stops with entrepreneurs willing to make the effort to create new, local products.
On another positive note, cattle prices are holding, or are slightly up over earlier this year, well above the break-even price for the primary product of most producers in the region which are the thousand-plus cattle producers.
For my part, I am still trying to get on the hayfields that are” blessed” with abundant sub-irrigation water. This is a more positive challenge than the curse of drought, but only a little better.
David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.